In recent years, Disney has done some impressive work bringing animated classics into the realm of live-action, both managing to pull off spectacular visual effects-driven feats, and finding new ways to approach beloved stories. Even with that record established, though, there is a fair bit of curiosity surrounding how cinematic magic will be applied to the in-the-works Lilo & Stitch remake – specifically the task of rendering the titular alien into a more reality-based medium.
This has been a lingering question for fans ever since the live-action project was announced a couple years ago, and it turns out they aren’t alone in their pondering. As I learned late last week talking with Chris Sanders, director of the upcoming The Call Of The Wild and co-writer/co-director of the animated Lilo & Stitch, he too isn’t quite sure how that transition is going to work out – and it’s actually a query that ties back to important decisions that were made back when the original film was in development.
It was at the end of my interview with the filmmaker that I asked for his take on the work being done to bring Stitch into live-action, and he began his answer by providing a bit of background about the making of Lilo & Stitch. Released in 2002, the feature was made when the animation industry was experiencing a massive transition from classic hand-drawn cells to CG. Sanders explained that he and co-writer/co-director Dean DeBlois were asked which direction they preferred to go in for their project, and it was actually the design of Stitch and the capacities of computers of the time that ultimately motivated the choice. Said Sanders,
I definitely thought CG was, not at that point, up to the task of turning [Stitch] into something that would be visually not disturbing. With traditional hand-drawn animation cells you can make it in a particular way you can look at that and not see it as odd. If you think about a reinterpretation of Lilo as a CG character, she would just look very strange because I think she'd feel very Muppet-y because of her big mouth, while in the hand drawn realm she looks pretty normal.
As weird as Stitch looked, with his blue fur, extra arms, and antenna, he didn’t look totally out of place because of the aesthetic design of the rest of the world that was created by the animation style. There was a certain degree of latitude permitted to make him look extra weird and still fit in because even the humans had characteristics that didn’t translate as photo-real.
That, however, won’t be the case in a Lilo & Stitch live-action movie, as the human characters will look specifically human. And that creates an issue given the elements of the film’s plot that require Stitch to have the ability to blend into normal society.
In the animated film, there is a considerable portion of the story where most of the characters are convinced that Stitch is nothing more than a super weird looking dog (one that got run over by a truck, no less), but that’s going to be a little bit hard to swallow if the live-action adaptation features a Stitch that is simply a 3D rendering of the ridiculous alien creature we all recognize. Sanders explained,
Even though he was very bizarre, I think you could buy that people would accept maybe that he was some sort of dog and not just run screaming from him [in the animated movie]. But in live-action with real people that's going to be different. I don't think you could put a literal Stitch in there and believably think that people wouldn't just run away from him. So I'm very curious what angle they will take on him.
So what will the solution be? Right now the answer is unclear, but as more information comes out about the project hopefully we will get a better idea.
Also be sure to stay tuned here the site for more from my interview with Chris Sanders, and see The Call Of The Wild, starring Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, and more, in theaters this Friday.